Fifty years later, Blue Island car club helping those in need
BY VERONICA HINKE Correspondent March 12, 2014 11:00AM
Ted DeMarche (from left), Rob Lukasik, Scott Schmaltz, Phil Fransen and Jim DeYoung, all active Romin’ Chariots members, enjoy Vintage Torque Fest in Dubuque, Iowa. | Supplied photo courtesy of Tom Schultz
Updated: April 14, 2014 6:03AM
A band of antique car enthusiasts will hit a vintage milestone of their own on March 18: The Romin’ Chariots group is turning 50.
A half-century after its inception, the Blue Island-based roadsters still are spreading the message they started with in 1964: Help others.
In the last two years alone, the 10 active members raised more than $4,000 for multiple nonprofit groups. Their annual car show benefits Blue Cap, which serves the disabled and is one of the first organizations they supported in 1964. Their holiday party, the HOt rod HOliday HOedown, doubles as a donations drive for An Angels Touch, which supports the needy in Blue Island.
“They do a heck of a job,” said Alsip resident Dan Schmaltz, an active Chariots member from 1966 to 1968. “They’re willing to go out there and do a lot for the community.”
That’s how they started.
In the early to mid-1960s, the club — which was made up mostly of guys from Eisenhower High School in Blue Island — raised money by washing cars and holding paper drives. They also held “Safe Driving Roadeos” and participated in parades in Blue Island and Calumet Park.
“We were all buddies hanging around together,” said 1960s member and one-time secretary Dick DeForte, of Palos Heights.
But he recalled how when the war in Vietnam started, practically every week a different member received a draft notice.
“In a small club of about 12 to 15 guys, that pretty much takes its toll quickly,” DeForte said.
After the war, original members stayed loosely connected, but family life allowed little time for regular meetings.
But in 2007, Schmaltz’s son Scott reignited the Romin’ Chariots — getting his buddies together and growing their group.
“I just sort of ran with it,” said the Blue Island resident, who is the club’s president.
“It’s a lot of fun,” he said. “But I’ve always said, ‘If we’re going to have a car show, it might as well have meaning.’ ”
Original members recently reconnected through Facebook. Within a few weeks, they were sharing pizza at Beggars in Blue Island. They continue to get together.
“How many people see their friends from 50 years ago on a regular basis?” DeForte said.
The club attends many local cruise nights and members often go on long weekend road trips, some of the drivers exceeding 15,000 miles in a season.
The club was planning to celebrate with a party, open to the public, at 8 p.m. March 21 at Mackenzie’s Place, 12759 S. Lincoln St., Blue Island.
“Nothing fancy, just loose, like always,” DeForte said.
He is pleased that the club is back on the road.
“I hope Scott’s buddies get together 50 years from now,” he said.